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‘The arts can save you’: Emil Wolk is still creating and ready to inspire


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‘The arts can save you’: Emil Wolk is still creating and ready to inspire

It’s a sparkling winter’s day and Emil Wolk stands admiring waves as they roll in on an empty beach in his hometown of Port Macquarie.Key points:Emil Wolk is an award-winning actor and director who began in London nearly 60 years agoHe recently created a stage play in a Port Macquarie surf club which he took…

‘The arts can save you’: Emil Wolk is still creating and ready to inspire

It’s a sparkling winter’s day and Emil Wolk stands admiring waves as they roll in on an empty beach in his hometown of Port Macquarie.

Key points:

  • Emil Wolk is an award-winning actor and director who began in London nearly 60 years ago
  • He recently created a stage play in a Port Macquarie surf club which he took across the world
  • Wolk now hopes to share his experiences with the next generation of performers

It’s a long way from the lights of some of the world’s greatest stages — including London’s West End and the opera houses of France and Italy — where the 75-year-old actor and director has been entertaining audiences for nearly six decades.

“We moved here [Port Macquarie] in 2005; we live so near the ocean, and that’s a first for me,” he said.

“I never knew how extraordinarily revitalising it could be. It can lift you out of wherever you are into some kind of higher plane.”

The ocean’s beauty recently helped inspire Wolk’s latest stage play, which he created with English colleague Mark Long.

Aussie surf club to London playhouse

They wrote and rehearsed the show inside a small Port Macquarie surf club.

Four men dressed in different stage costumes, including a suit, and armour, sit together holding instruments.

Emil Wolk (back right) embraced cutting-edge theatre with People Show.(Supplied: Emil Wolk)

“Mark was just stunned … he felt so good to be in such a beautiful and delightful location.

“We actually incorporated the idea of the ocean and the environment in the piece.”

They took the show across the world to London’s Southwark Playhouse for England’s longest-running experimental theatre company, People Show.

It is titled People Show 137: God Knows How Many — the numbering system began with People Show 1 held in Soho in 1966.

A beach with rocks and water in the foreground and green trees and a surf club in the background.

Flynn’s Beach provided an inspirational backdrop for the creation of Emil Wolk’s latest stage play.(ABC News: Emma Siossian)

“Reuniting with the People Show after not performing with them for 20 odd years was a highlight … in a way the cast are the veterans of the People Show,” Wolk said.

“So, in a way, it was a retrospective of things we had done.”

The show’s season ended when the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

“My wife and I departed on March 15, so we got out just in time and almost walked back in without any kind of check,” he said.

‘The arts can really save you’

Wolk said the performing arts had always been a natural career choice.

His father, Jess Walters, was a celebrated opera singer in the post-war era.

A man dressed in formal jacket, holding a book.

Jess Walters was a celebrated opera singer.(Supplied: Emil Wolk)

The family moved from New York to London after Walters took up the position of principal baritone at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1947.

“The only real course was through the arts… it felt like fate took a strong hand.

“The arts really can save you in some respects, in terms of idiosyncratic people finding a way to get through life and get paid for it, which is really remarkable.”

Inspired by classics but drawn to the new

A male actor on stage dressed as Dracula, with yellow light around him.

Emil Wolk has played a variety of roles, including starring in vampire spook Bats in England.(Supplied: Emil Wolk)

Wolk’s creative passion and the joy it has brought him bubbles to the surface when he reflects on his varied and successful career.

He may have been inspired by his classically trained father, but from early on he embraced cutting-edge, very physical theatre.

“In the ’60s and ’70s in London I got involved in the whole impetus that existed of wanting theatre to be something different … something not always associated with the word,” he said.

“That’s when I [first] saw the People Show.”

A black and white image showing two performers on bunk beds on stage in the 1950s, one sitting on a bottom bunk bed looking up.

Jess Walters in Berg’s Wozzeck in which he played the title role in England in the 1950s.(Supplied: Emil Wolk)

Wolk’s father worked with him on a People Show production and it remains a treasured memory.

“My Dad, even though he was a classical singer, always remained open to really taking opportunities,” he said.

‘An extraordinary quirk of fate’

Two actors in a musical, dressed in suit jackets and shirts, and wide brimmed hats

Emil Wolk shared the Laurence Olivier Award with co-star John Bardon.(Supplied: Emil Wolk)

Over the years Wolk has crossed smoothly from the alternative to the mainstream.

In 1988 he was highly rewarded for his performance in a musical.

“By an extraordinary quirk of fate, I did an audition for the musical Kiss Me, Kate — I was one of the gangsters in the show,” he said.

A black and white photo of an male actor hanging off a large black curtain.

Emil Wolk playing Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.(Supplied: Emil Wolk)

Later, Wolk’s connection to his Dad was reaffirmed when he started choreographing.

“I worked in extraordinary venues like La Scala in Italy, the Metropolitan Opera, the Rome Opera, just really remarkable opera houses that my father talked about a lot.

Wolk also took on film and television roles, including The Tall Guy (1989) and a role in the popular ABC TV series Rake (2014).

‘Follow your hopes and be tenacious’

An older man wearing a pink shirt and hat stands smiling next to a beach with the ocean in the background.

Emil Wolk hopes to share his performing arts experience with young people.(ABC News: Emma Siossian)

Before the pandemic Wolk was offered choreography work in France, but is now happy to focus on projects closer to home.

“I would love to be able to give over my experience to some younger people, so maybe I should start focusing on doing some masterclasses or working in schools.

“It is a difficult, competitive profession and you just have to follow your hopes and be tenacious.”

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